Have you ever had a desire, a passion, locked up inside that you longed to share with the world but somehow couldn't seem to let yourself unleash it? Join me as I do a
Locked Passion, Imprisoned Fire
One of the hardest things about being a creative person, especially a writer, is the act of creativity itself. It's like you have a living, breathing part of yourself inside that longs to become more than you are, longs to be shared on the outside, with others in the world.
If you've ever wanted to write but were too scared to face the blank page; if you've ever wanted to paint but were too afraid you couldn't choose the right the colors or paint the perfect image; if you've ever wanted to play a song but were too afraid the notes wouldn't do justice to what you heard in your head, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Recently, I saw a verse of scripture, one that I've read many times, in a whole new way. I'll list it now. Read it carefully and take a moment to consider what it means to you before continuing.
"Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in
I've always interpreted this scripture as the proclaiming of God's words by the prophet Jeremiah to the nation of Israel, but lately this verse has opened itself to me in an entirely new way, and I intend to dissect it here, not only to explain it further but to better explore what I'm truly thinking via the process of writing my thoughts on the subject.
A Living, Organic Book
As I asked at the beginning of this post, have you ever had a passion that seemed locked away inside but longed to be set free from its prison, and thus share its (your) message with the world? Believe me, I have. I presently have multiple passions that continually struggle with. Not that I don't want to pursue them, but that I want to pursue them all at the same time.
The stress of not knowing which passion I should pursue at any point in time is one of the main reasons I find myself locking them all away. It's sort of like in school: when one student acts up and doesn't confess, the whole class has to pay. Imagine the possibilities if I simply allowed my passions to come out and play and, thus, explore the world outside of myself.
In the verses prior to the Jeremiah 20:9, Jeremiah felt deceived by God—an interesting thought, seeing as how it's impossible for God to lie (Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:18). I can only speculate on what Jeremiah must have been feeling. When I used to read the verse above, it sounded like even though Jeremiah felt deceived, his love and passion for speaking the Word of God was stronger than the disappointment of seemingly being betrayed by the very one who called him to preach God's Word in the first place—God Himself. While I still have this same viewpoint, I now believe—as is so often the case when re-reading the Bible—it can also mean much more, depending on the circumstances in my day to day life.
You see, the Word of God describes itself as quick (living) and powerful (Heb. 4:12). It's a living, organic book, constantly revealing itself to those who are willing to trust God and His direction for their lives. Case in point: my original interpretation of the above scripture still stands; however, I now see it in a new light, based on my current circumstances. I feel as if my inner desire to be creative—more specifically, the desire to write—has been "shut up" for way too long.
Before I go any further, let's take the time to break the above verse down, section by section, as I now see it in this new light.
The Bible is a living, organic book, constantly revealing itself to those who are willing to trust God's direction for their lives.
Shedding Light on the Scriptures
Disclaimer: Please note, I am in no way attempting to take away or add to the words of the holy, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. This is just the way God, via His Holy Spirit, revealed the above verse to me while I was struggling with the topics I'll be discussing. You may find yourself doing the same with the holy scriptures, again, based on your own circumstances.
Jer. 20:9, Part 1: Smoldering the Flame
Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name.
Here, Jeremiah is expressing his frustration, disappointment, and feelings of betrayal in a direct and defiant act of rebellion. "God has done me wrong," the prophet thinks. "Therefore, I will also do Him wrong by keeping silent." Such attitudes are petty, selfish, and ultimately self-destructive, only serving to hurt the one who is holding the grudge.
In my current situation, I feel betrayed and frustrated by feelings of inadequacy, fear, anxiety, failure, defeat, and the lack of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding on how best to write down my thoughts, ideas, stories, and the like—writing in general, in other words. What's the result of all this anxiety? Complete and total shut down, like being locked up in a prison of my own making, without access to the key that will release me.
The most obvious solution I hear among writers who also struggle with this all too common problem—notoriously known as "Writer's Block"—is to just write anything down on the page. Anything at all, even if it means writing "I don't know what to write next" multiple times until something else comes. The exercise is called freewriting, and I created a blog post on this subject a while back.
The problem with this (for me at least, being the perfectionist INFJ personality that I am) is that everything I write always feels as if it has to be flawless. I know I should just throw caution to the wind and put words on the page (whatever they turn out to be), but it's difficult for me to do something that seems so meaningless, so pointless; something that won't be good for anything once it's done.
I suppose, in a way, the purpose of such an exercise is in the writing itself, in putting words on the page, not to achieve any actual meaning but to mine the inner cave in which you hold your passions captive. By doing so, you fashion the key to the prison cell from the act of writing itself, the key to freedom.
Now, if only I could see and remember these revelations when faced with my own writer's block!
Side note: I just noticed, while writing this, that one of the most common words people use when dealing with fear and anxiety is "But," as if to justify the right to remain in our current situation rather than allowing ourselves to escape it!
Jer. 20:9, Part 2: The Fire Within
But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones,...
The "But" in this case is a positive one: Jeremiah realizes his passion has to come out. And not just any passion, but a passion
It's interesting to me that Jeremiah says the fire is in his bones. When I think of prison bars, I'm reminded of the very ribs of a skeleton. And bones, being composed of organic matter, are very combustible, so Jeremiah won't be able to hold his passion for long—not if he wants to survive mentally, spiritually, and emotionally (again, the center of his being)!
I wouldn't go so far as to say Jeremiah would have eventually spontaneously combusted in a physical sense, but doesn't a distressed emotional self frequently lead to an equally distressed physical self, as so many diseases and ailments are reported to do? Besides, who's to say God couldn't cause Jeremiah to go up in flames? God created (and can therefore destroy) our bodies, after all!
The fire I feel shut up in my bones is that of writing stories. For me, one of the easiest things in the world to do is write non-fiction, such as journal entries, blog posts, my thoughts on a topic, and the like. But when it comes to creating a brand new story from scratch, it's like the ideas have somehow abandoned me; almost as if they've locked themselves up and are afraid to come out and play.
In order to be an effective vessel through which God's purposes flow, I must first banish all fear of doing it on my own.
Sitting down to write is no easy task, for the most part, especially writing fiction. You have to come up with the story on your own; there's no template to follow. Sure, there are the popular story structure models such as the infamous "Three Act Structure" method, but even then you're coming up with all the characters, plot, settings, etc., all by yourself. Again, not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.
However, at the same time I'm experiencing writer's block, I'm also experiencing major heartburn. Not physically, mind you, but emotionally. My stories are trapped inside, and I can't seem to find the key. It's during these times that the most obvious solution evades me: just start writing!
Jeremiah's own heartburn was due to God's word trying to come out and accomplish His purposes through Jeremiah. In my case, the words entrapped inside my prison walls are the stories that want to be made into something that can accomplish God's purposes through me. In order to be an effective vessel through which God's purposes flow, I must first banish all fear of doing it on my own. God will help me achieve His will if I just get out of the way and be a follower instead of worrying about being the leader!
Jer. 20:9, Part 3: Decisions, Decisions
...and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
It is in this final part of the verse that we ultimately get to see what Jeremiah decides to do about his situation. In order to be effective, he must commit to a decision either way. Will he continue to smother the word that is consuming him, eventually dousing the burning flame to a smoldering ember? Or will he release the flame and be consumed by the burning desire to unleash his message into the world, thus freeing the passion within?
Jeremiah knows he can't hold out any longer and decides it's better to burn from pursuing his passion for sharing God's word than to be consumed by it from the inside out. The word forbearing here means to "hold" or "keep back." Jeremiah grew weary from the expounded energy of trying to hold back a force so powerful as God's message to His people. I would do well to remember how fatigued I feel whenever I wrestle with my desire to write. It is better to submit to the calling of God than to die with the passion still inside us.
Perhaps the hardest scenario in this situation is having to choose between not just one but multiple passions and desires. As I mentioned early on in this blog post, I find myself engaging in this emotional tug-of-war time and again. Thankfully, something came along, right when I needed it, to help me. Recently, after I first started writing this blog post, our pastor preached a sermon on making decisions. (If you're interested in hearing the sermon, check out this link from my wife's website and click the play button on the sermon labeled "Decisions" on July 13th, 2016.)
God will help me achieve His will if I just get out of the way and be a follower instead of worrying about being the leader!
I realized after hearing his message that I was, much like the scripture he referenced (1 Kings 18:21), "halting between two opinions." It's a debilitating, paralyzing feeling to be stuck in a valley of decision, as Joel 3:14 states, and I find myself there more often than not. It's also a difficult thing to notice you've been immobilized and can't think clearly about how to move ahead. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do is to make a decision—one way or another.
Making decisions can be hard, but if you don't decide you'll be stuck while the opportunities of life pass you by, allowing others to seize the blessing you would have received had you only acted on one decision or another. Think of this, even if you make the wrong decision, at least you can correct course and then actually know what the right decision is. Standing still only gets you run over by those who will make decisions.
Jeremiah's decision was obvious: Preach the word. Get it out of himself and release it into the ears of the people whom it would help the most. He had a burning desire to help God's people by telling them God's message. My decision should be obvious as well: Getting the words out of myself and onto the page will allow the inward fire to consume the fear of failure, rejection, and incompetence—which are the wardens of my own inner prison.
It is better to submit to the calling of God than to die with the passion still inside us.
Unleashing the Fire Within
In the process of writing this blog post, I've had a couple of weeks to ponder these words I've written, as well as those of Jeremiah. Many other projects have come and gone, causing me to lay aside this article and work on it whenever I can. In a way, I made the decisions I needed to make while working on those other projects as they cropped up. Delaying the completion of this blog post may have been the wrong decision, but at least I made a decision, and now I can finally finish what I started. The opportunity to finish eventually came back around anyway—as, I've discovered, is the case with most things that are important to us in our lives.
Now that I've completed this blog post, I'm grateful to have reflected on the powerful ideas it has placed in my mind, accompanying me even though I moved onto other projects. The words I've written have served to help me think through my own dilemmas, and that's probably the most exciting thing I get out of writing.
Being able to solve your own problems just by writing them down is sort of like seeing a therapist. In a counseling session, you talk your way through your problems while the therapist writes them down. By writing down my problems myself, I've come up with some great solutions, and it's thanks to the leadership of God's Holy Spirit that led me to the scripture I've been studying in this blog post. (More good news: It didn't even cost me $75—or more—per hour!)
The bottom line is this: If God has placed a burning desire, a fiery passion inside me that continues to engulf my heart, choking me with its flames, I would be a fool indeed to ignore it or try to stifle it to serve my own cowardice and selfishness. And if you also feel a calling, a passion welling up inside of you, dear reader, why not unleash it to accomplish His purpose for you? To banish your fear and anxiety, simply trust God to help you accomplish His will in your passions. Get out of your own way and decide to be a follower instead of the leader.
One thing's for sure: The world would be a much better place if we allowed God's fire to spread outward instead of snuffing out the life-giving passion He has placed inside all His children.
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Question: What's the burning passion that stands to consume you if you don't unleash it?
Leave a comment below and tell us all about it.